The Lost Region
“Jon Lauck has written the definitive manifesto for a new midwestern historiography. Deeply researched, elegantly written, passionate yet sensible in its themes, it is a stunning book. One hopes that it will stun the coasties, for example, who believe that the fly-over states, many of them beginning with the letter I, have no serious history. Lauck shows that an America without the Midwest would have been less fair, less strong, less prosperous, and above all less democratic. Lauck is the new Frederick Jackson Turner, reminding us that the Midwest is the master spring of American history—without which, not.”—Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago, and author, The Bourgeois Virtues
“Jon Lauck justifiably laments the neglect of the Midwest by both the contemporary media and, more surprisingly, by historians, but this book is a robust and persuasive response rather than a complaint. The Midwest is vital to any explanation of the United States, and at one time midwesterners—particularly his Prairie Historians—explained the region to itself and praised its importance to the rest of the country. He is right. Historians need to refill the space they once occupied.”—Richard White, Stanford University
“The Lost Region should be a significant contribution to midwestern history. As far as I know, no one has pulled together such a substantial reflection on the past and potential future of the field.”—Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, Iowa State University
The American Midwest is an orphan among regions. In comparison to the South, the far West, and New England, its history has been sadly neglected. To spark more attention to their region, midwestern historians will need to explain the Midwest’s crucial roles in the development of the entire country: it helped spark the American Revolution and stabilized the young American republic by strengthening its economy and endowing it with an agricultural heartland; it played a critical role in the Union victory in the Civil War; it extended the republican institutions created by the American founders, and then its settler populism made those institutions more democratic; it weakened and decentered the cultural dominance of the urban East; and its bustling land markets deepened Americans’ embrace of capitalist institutions and attitudes.
In addition to outlining the centrality of the Midwest to crucial moments in American history, Jon K. Lauck resurrects the long-forgotten stories of the institutions founded by an earlier generation of midwestern historians, from state historical societies to the Mississippi Valley Historical Association. Their strong commitment to local and regional communities rooted their work in place and gave it an audience outside the academy. He also explores the works of these scholars, showing that they researched a broad range of themes and topics, often pioneering fields that remain vital today.
The Lost Region demonstrates the importance of the Midwest, the depth of historical work once written about the region, the continuing insights that can be gleaned from this body of knowledge, and the lessons that can be learned from some of its prominent historians, all with the intent of once again finding the forgotten center of the nation and developing a robust historiography of the Midwest.